It used to be that musicians, painters and dancers could hold part-time jobs and still survive in New York City while pursuing their particular art form. However, times have changed – and survival in the 21st century as a musician has become a very serious business.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in working with people in the creative arts, I am very aware of the struggles artistic people face in trying to reconcile their natural access to an inner world of rich creativity with the stressful demands of the external world of practical and business matters.
Musicians explore a very private inner world while developing fluency in the language of music. They spend endless hours alone, practicing an instrument, exploring rhythms, cadence and the nuances of a particular musical instrument.
But the abilities required to nurture musical talent are quite different from those needed to earn a living: developing business relationships, finding agents or managers, negotiating contracts and dealing with lawyers, publicists, etc. In fact, the many years spent alone in building musical skills may actually hamper the development of the “relationship skills” required by a successful career in the music business.
Or, despite your best efforts, a career as a professional musician may not materialize. To survive economically you may be forced to take on a job that has nothing to do with your art form, and pursue a musical career as a second occupation, summoning up the energy and focus to rehearse, practice and perform at night, after spending a long day at work.
The pressures involved in balancing the needs of the inner, creative world with the necessities for survival in the outer world often take a toll on the musician’s psyche. It is not difficult to understand the temptation of using drugs and alcohol to soothe, at least on the surface, the rocky road a musician must traverse.
A musician must have a strong psyche to weather the pressures of a musical career, whether that career achieves professional status or not. He or she must develop skills in survival as well as art. Fortunately, tools such as psychotherapy and support groups exist to help develop relationship and business skills. While these “muscles” may seem a bit stiff at first, unfamiliar and difficult to mobilize with any fluidity, they can become developed with practice – just as your musical ability did.
Rhoda Urman, CSW, is the coordinator of the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, Institute for Performing and Creative Artists, Center for Adult Psychotherapy. She will lead the next MAP Networking Session, on Nov. 20, to discuss in greater detail the issues raised in this column.